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When the glass was frosted at 41 Bell Street, excitement grew among Reigate's foodies. But does Bell Street Bistro live up to the hype?

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Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2012

Restaurant reviewed: Bell Street Bistro, 41 Bell Street, Reigate, Surrey RH2 7AQ: 01737 222 562

***

The verdict:
Food: 9
Venue: 8
Service: 8

What we ate...

Starters
Crayfish salad, bois boudran espuma, lemon air, £7.50
Crisp pork belly, poached apples, balsamic glaze, £8

Main courses
Turbot a la Plancha, roast broccoli and cauliflower, parmentier potatoes, red wine jus, £18
Lamb rump, warm pea, bacon and baby gem salad, wild garlic pesto, £17.50
Roast new potatoes, £3

Desserts
Flaming frozen lemon bar, lemon gel, £6.50
Eton Mess cheesecake, £6.50

***

REVIEW: Last time I was in the building now occupied by Reigate’s latest foodie offering, I was getting my hair cut. Previously a hairdresser’s (and before that Surf & Ski and once even a hotel apparently), the floors have fortunately  been swept and the interior designers brought in to transform 41 Bell Street into Bell Street Bistro.

Much secrecy had surrounded the restaurant’s opening, with masked windows teasing passing pedestrians for a few months in the lead-up, so our curiosity had been well and truly piqued. Furthermore, Reigate has long been at the centre of Surrey Life operations, so when we were invited to visit, we were only too pleased to try out our hometown’s newest independent restaurant.

On entry, the first thing you notice is the openness of the place and, right in the centre of the expanse, the kitchen and chefs on full view, with the cocktail bar on the right (interestingly, the wide range of drinks on offer seem to be attracting non-diners just as readily).

Manager Simon Brencher, who has survived working under the formidable Gordon Ramsay over the years, met us on a busy Friday night with the restaurant barely open two weeks.

Understandably proud of the new venture, Simon treated us to hand-picked wine offerings to match each course – obviously not quite the standard procedure, but it did highlight the breadth of their cellar perfectly.

On the menu
Offering a concise, contemporary European menu, stretching to lobster for £35 (and a claw hammer that one local wielded with such relish I felt a certain amount of empathy for her husband’s worried look), other dishes include a £17 burger, vegetarian option (mushroom tea included...?), Cote de Boeuf for two and various fish dishes.

My fiancée Sylviane should have been born by the sea and went for the crayfish to start. I have to admit that when it was first presented, the ‘lemon air’ froth on top appeared overwhelming but, as she delved in, it was clear that it was delightfully subtle rather than dominating.

My crisp pork belly came as prescribed with crunchy crackling matching tender pork, all cleverly presented alongside poached apples.

The open kitchen really adds to the atmosphere of the place and while others tucked into their own selections around us, I kept casting glances across to the kitchen that was sending out dish after dish with calm assuredness – no sign of Gordon Ramsay there (not sure if the expletives would work with the Reigate dining crowd anyway).

So, onto the main courses, and Sylviane stuck with the sea and was served a deliciously meaty Turbot a la Plancha, well complemented by roast broccoli and cauliflower, parmentier potatoes and red wine jus.

My lamb rump came with a wild garlic pesto, which was a nice touch, and a combination I hadn’t experienced before. Those with big appetites will probably require a side of roast new potatoes to complement the dish.

For dessert, Sylviane opted for a flaming frozen lemon bar having witnessed one presented to a nearby diner. We’re not quite sure what it was coated in, but Reigate’s recent jubilee beacon lighting could have probably done with it. It would have burnt all night if Sylviane hadn’t assisted in extinguishing it. Despite the effect, the frozen lemon bar still proved just as sensitive teeth-aching as you’d imagine.

I was tempted by the Eton Mess cheesecake and while Sylviane claims her school’s offering is better, a bold claim, I thoroughly enjoyed the dish set out in front of me.

A flying start
Bar one or two slight serving hiccups, which you’d fully expect in the first couple of weeks, the staff were friendly and attentive throughout without being imposing. The venue itself is a dramatic change from its previous offering and will undoubtedly continue to grow into itself. The skylights over the main dining room give fantastic natural light and on a clear night I like to imagine it will offer the added bonus of dining under the stars.

All in all, in a town not short of good (but often chain) restaurants, Bell Street Bistro is a welcome new independent addition that punches above its weight. With the experienced team at the helm, I imagine it won’t be long before it’s tempting in the foodies from further afield than Reigate’s high street too.


***

3 other great Bells

The Bell Inn
High Street, Godstone, Surrey RH9 8DX: 01883 743216
In the early 19th century, The Bell was used as a staging post – with six coaches a day travelling through the village to Eastbourne and Brighton. These days, the car park is still normally full.

The Cloche Hat
Burrow Hill, Chobham, Surrey GU24 8QS: 01276 858000
Nestled on the edge of the picturesque village of Chobham, at The Cloche Hat they’ve been bringing gourmet food to the residents of Surrey since 1957. Former joint head chefs of London’s Cuckoo Club, Fernando and Kristy Stovell have recently taken over the restaurant.

The Bell
Bell Lane, Fetcham KT22 9ND: 01372 372624
Managers Mark and Penny Thornhill only returned from Florida, where they had an English tea room (complete with red phone booth outside) and four restaurants in the Disney area, a few years ago – and yet they have already seen their undertaking gain inclusion in The Good Food Guide.

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